Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why Record Store Day Black Friday Sucks

I'm beginning to think there are other options available for supporting Record Store Day without actually visiting a record store.

This epiphany came after visiting a record store on Black Friday, literally my only venture on the day after Thanksgiving. The rest of the day was devoted to watching the Iowa Hawkeyes beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers and napping.

I used to work in retail, and I still remember how Black Friday was the worse day of the entire year.

But somehow I thought that going to a record store would be somewhat therapeutic, and therefore immune from all of the nonsense that you see on the Friday night news. I'm speaking of the lead-off story found on every 10/11 O'Clock newscast that contains something about the crowds, typically with videophone footage of angry shoppers and the obligatory Wal-Mart chaos.

Fuck that noise, the record store should prove to be a better fit for my temperament.

I was at my folks' place in Des Moines, and ever since I explained to my old man what Record Store Day was all about, he's been on me to visit one of his town's record shops. He vaguely said something about one, but he admitted that he had never been to one since moving into Iowa's Capitol City and had no idea where they were located.

When I brought up the addresses, he encouraged me to visit one in particular, indicating that he had "driven by it" although he was far from useful in conveying what exactly made this store better than the others, aside from the notion that he visually saw it once.

On a related note, I did actually visit the location. It was clearly designed for collectors, as it had a large stock of memorabilia, most of which were priced high. Even the used records were listed at $16-$17 on average, meaning you'd be paying about three times as much for that worn copy of The Doors 13 compilation today than you would if you bought it new in 1969.

I left Wayback Records about a soon as I entered it, but the trip was not in vain: an old man hanging out under the stoop of the building's rear side and drinking a big soda gave me a wave as I pulled out.

ZZZ Records was the only store in town that appeared to be supporting Record Store Day, and as I drove by about twenty minutes before they opened, I noticed a line of about a dozen deep already forming in front.

I quickly joined the back of the line, putting me at a comfortable 15 bodies back.

The owner of the store nicely came out and explained the drill, advising us where the new releases were and hinting that the selections were limited. He suggested speaking to him directly if we didn't find what we were looking for as he could special order titles that weren't in the Dave Mathews section.

We all laughed, but the owner seemed very serious about the availability of Dave Mathews' Black Friday titles.

All I could gather was that everybody in line was after the Grateful Dead album, including one guy who came into the line after me who admitted that he didn't even own a turntable.

Although I can't confirm this, I don't believe ZZZ Records has a policy of limiting titles of one-per-person. Or maybe ZZZ Records doesn't have much pull in the number or which titles they could get. Just about everyone who made it in before me (by my math skills, that amounts to about 14 people) had armfulls of vinyl. By the time I made it to the "A" section, pretty much everything had been picked clean, including the douche that went to the other side of the titles and reached over to grab the one thing he wanted. Or the asshole who weaseled in behind me, wedged in between me and the guy to my right just so he could grab the last copy of the shitty Doors RSD exclusive.

I found the one thing I was looking for, grabbed an Electric Prunes record (purple vinyl!) as an impulse purchase (and a non-RSD item) and found one copy of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds radio set. It was worth the trip, but the experience at ZZZ Records and the plentiful selection of the same kind of shit you can find at auction stores across the state, means that this would probably be the last visit to the store.

Even if the two copies of the Grateful Dead or the few copies of the Dylan record had gone with the first wave of patrons, you would think there would be plenty of other titles to ponder. But no, I counted just a handful of singles, a light selection of full-lengths, and not a goddamn Miles Davis record in the mix.

The new selection, which most stores have stocked up in preparation for the influx of new faces, was weak. I've been to RSD events where I nearly put back the limited edition titles in favor for some other sealed vinyl that caught my eye.

Aside from the Electric Prunes long player, that didn't happen today.

I got a report from my cousin that the store he visited in Chicago had a pretty good selection, but that the store jacked up the prices on some titles like a bunch of assholes. When he told me that the store was asking for-and selling-the Dylan record for $65 a pop (it's a three disc set, but still), I told him that the website we visit to pick up RSD leftovers had it priced for half that.

It's like these fuckers never learned. Here is a prime opportunity to get new people into your store, and they get rewarded with limited inventory and price gouging. Every goddamn title I was looking for was at this website, meaning that I could have completely stayed in bed Friday morning and gotten the remaining titles I'd been seeking at a fair cost, tax free, and with free shipping.

If it weren't for a sense of loyalty to the one remaining record store in my area, I would definitely sit the next one out and cherry picked my own favorites in the comforts of my own home. And who knows? If the event becomes anymore a clusterfuck than what it already is, my own Record Store Day may become a digital shopping experience since the real one is turning into another reason to hate retail shopping all over again.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sub Pop Readies A Few Gems For Black Friday

I'll admit, the complete list of Black Friday finds is not standing out as anything very demanding, but then again-like Richard Gere said in An Officer And A Gentleman: "I've got nowhere else to go!"

For reals, what else am I supposed to do when the world is expected to shop and feed this goddamn economy? Do you really think that Todd Totale (Yes, I refer to myself in the third person) is going to hit the shopping malls?

Hells no.

In fact, I believe that my presence is requested at a family function for my in-laws, which means that I simply need to find a record store on Black Friday, and I will use the entire shopping list for Record Store Day's Black Friday list as a reason to be tardy.

One of the items that has caught my eye is the Low/Shearwater split below, especially because I love both bands and love both of the songs they are covering.

Other than that, there's the usual suspects of a few classic rock bands/artists that I'll consider and the debut from Ghost is getting the vinyl treatment this week, so the majority of any purchases on Friday will be impulse buys after I scour the shelves for those titles.
I spy...Missing Person's rare first e.p. behind that Joni Mitchell album. 

See you at the record store!

Here's Sub Pop's spiel on Record Store Day's Black Friday line up:

Sub Pop is once again participating in the frenzied holiday tradition known as Record Store Day’s Black Friday.

On November 29th, Sub Pop will release two limited-edition Black Friday exclusives: Josh Tillman’s score to the forthcoming short film The History of Caves, and a split 7” featuring Low’s popular rendition of Rihanna’s megahit “Stay” and Shearwater’s take on Frank Ocean’s “Novacane.” Please find track listing details for both releases below.

The History of Caves is the directorial debut of photographer and filmmaker Emma Elizabeth Tillman, and it will premiere later this year on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes. Josh Tillman’s haunting, spare instrumental score spans 10 tracks, all of which are featured on this limited-edition LP. The album is limited to 2,000 copies.

Labelmates Low and Shearwater each contribute arguably-improbable covers of popular songs for their 7” split single. After performing a crowd-favorite live version of Rihanna’s “Stay” at the Pitchfork Music Festival this past July, Low recorded a studio version at Sacred Heart in Duluth, MN. Shearwater recorded their own gauze-wrapped, undulating version of Frank Ocean’s “Novacane” for this single.

The 7” is limited to 3,500 copies. Low’s proceeds will benefit Rock for Kids, while Shearwater’s will benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both releases will also be available digitally.

Josh Tillman The History of Caves Tracklisting:

1. Finish Those Cigarettes & Go to Bed
2. News of the World
3. Alternate Title Score 777
4. Dial Tone
5. I Call It the Demon Tree
6. Of Course I Live With Them
7. Car Chase Theme
8. Dial Tone 2
9. Tender is the Night in Paperback
10. Titles Theme for Boy Voices

Low / Shearwater “Stay” / “Novacane” Tracklisting:

1. Stay (Rihanna cover)
2. Novacane (Frank Ocean cover)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Ventures - Knock Me Out

Every summer for two weeks, my parents would ship me over to my grandparent’s house in a small town in Southwest Iowa, population 1,500 residents. When I went there for my grandmother’s funeral this August. Both sets of grandparents lived in Bedford, making it impossible to get away from the farming community whenever summer come around again.

To a kid below the age of 12, Bedford was not such a terrible place to visit. It wasn’t until my teenage years when the limitations of a town of 1,500 people became noticeable. Prior to that, Bedford was a fine environment for a kid. It boasted a big lake you could swim in, a small Main Street with a department store, and fireworks just a few miles to the south, right across the state line of Missouri where the incendiary devices were legal.

The only time when Bedford became kind of a drag was when I missed my record collection from back home. Both grandparents did not have much in the way of records, at least the kind that I enjoyed, so it was a real bummer when I had a hankering for some Queen and the closest match was an old Rusty Warren comedy album that one of my grandmother’s had stuck in the middle of all of her easy listening records.
The same grandmother did have a one leftover record from her kids, The Ventures’ Knock Me Out.

It was an instrumental offering from the band circa 1965 and it featured a few hits from the day as well as one or two originals. The cover featured a blonde haired girl who was “knocked out” by the Ventures’ sound, a sound that evidently was created by the Mosrite guitars, whose headstocks were prominently featured next to the girl’s swinging head.

This was the first type of guitar that I ever became familiar with, mainly because I thought it was cool that the Ventures were so well known back in the 60’s that Mosrite had an exclusive line of guitars made especially for them. When I noticed that there was a picture of Ricky Wilson’s Mosrite on the inner sleeve of The B-52’s debut album, I surmised that the awesome surf tone of “Rock Lobster” was the result of that two-stringed instrument that had the strap attached to it by a bunch of duct tape. I immediately wanted one, and still do to this day.

Some of the songs on Knock Me Out were instantly recognizable. The album begins with “I Feel Fine” and the distinctive feedback at the beginning of the song. “Love Potion No. 9” was another familiar cut, although the fuzz tone of guitarist Nokie Edwards on the Ventures’ version makes the track almost sound menacing.

At the end of side two, The Ventures actually sign during one song, “Sha La La.” As you can probably figure out, the extent of the band’s “singing” consists of them going “Sha La La” over and over, dutifully preventing the band from ever being compared with any of the vocal groups they covered. Like most other Ventures’ product, the guitars normally served as the same melody where the vocals usually were.

Regardless of the band’s lack of vocal prowess, Knock Me Out is another example of the band’s instrumental dexterity and consistent chops. There’s no doubt that the band served an important role in the annals of rock music and Knock Me Out is another fine example of the band’s style and prowess. There are moments of intriguing tones, particularly considering the rest of the rock landscape from when the album was first issued in February, 1965.

The band puts together a taught collection of one dozen tracks that were probably better suited for my own collection rather than my grandmother’s. But at the end of the day, Knock Me Out stayed in Bedford as the only real permanent rock and roll fixture within my grandparents’ home, a brief reprieve from the over-abundance of mellow schlock that was played on their stereo during dining and whatever social occasions they listened to that garbage.

It only took another spin-several decades removed, and with a plethora of unlimited options available to me at my digital fingertips, before I fully appreciated the extend of Knock Me Out’s influence on my young ears.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bronies Documentary Released On DVD

In what is surely a sign of the impending Apocalypse, there is a group of grown men who share a love of My Little Pony in a way that even my 6 year old daughter has.

Do you want to know why my 6 year old daughter doesn't love My Little Pony as much as these grown men? Because she has fucking already outgrown them.

Before you suggest that there is some kind of overreaching moral that these grown men are trying to suggest, you need to know that my little girl has already received a "Spyin' Lion" award for trying to make another 6 year old feel better after she was unceremoniously dissed on the playground at recess.

The "Spyin' Lion" is given to those students within her elementary school (their mascot is a lion, btw) who are witnessed helping other students during difficult times. Her random act of kindness was achieved without the help of make believe plastic ponies that smell like strawberries.

Or wait, is that Strawberry Shortcake?

Who the fuck cares? She's grown out of Strawberry Shortcake too.

The good news is that my daughter's honorable personality would also prevent her from bullying Bronies, and being there whenever they get picked on by others.

If the idea of grown men actually and unironically liking the cartoons of My Little Pony isn't enough for you to start watching the Jim Bakker Show and become a survivalist, then the fact that these fuckers were able to piece together over a quarter of a million dollars to fund a documentary about grown men liking the cartoons of My Little Pony.

The details of the end of our days is found below.

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony started as a Kickstarter campaign and quickly become one of the most funded documentary projects of all time with over $322,000 raised for the production of the feature film. The film has now been released on DVD and digital download.

One would be hard-pressed to find a cultural sensation as unique and as unexpected as Bronies: a group of mostly young adult men who are dedicated fans of the animated series created for little girls, called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The documentary discovers why these guys are attracted to a cartoon intended for little girls and why are they willing to brave society's ridicule for their love of the show.

Along with the essential story elements of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic -- Honesty, Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Loyalty and Magic - have a universality that extends beyond age and gender and that Bronies are pushing the boundaries of what society deems appropriate in their quest for a kinder, gentler future.

Bronies from around the world, reveal their own unique stories, as they make their way to My Little Pony conventions in Germany, England and, the biggest of all, BronyCon: a convention attended by over 4,000 Bronies in the USA.

The revelations in the film are, indeed, unexpected and give hope to the notion that Bronies might be on to something quite wonderful.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Norman - Into The Eventyr

Even in the digital age, we have misconceptions about the geography we reside.

For example, I've never been to Portland, Oregon. My knowledge is based on episodes of Portlandia and from the Loretta Lynn song "Portland, Oregon" from the album she did with Jack White.

Oh, and from a friend who lives in the Eugene area, but spent a few years in Portland working the door of some hipster place. He came back to Iowa over the summer with a full beard and an attitude of "I don't listen to much rock music these days. I mainly listen to classical."

So based on these things, you can probably deduce that I am an expert on all thing Portland, which makes me, by default, dislike Portland, Oregon while still maintaining a vast amount of love of Loretta Lynn, even though the old dame just cancelled a show here in town this month.

As a Portland expert, I imagine there are a lot of bands that sound like Norman in the Portland area: Neil Young loving, flannel wearing beer drinkers with an impressive amount of facial hair, rock chops and an impossibly difficult path in front of them if there's an even remote chance of breaking out of the Pacific Northwest.

This isn't a slight against Norman, particularly upon hearing their third offering, Into The Eventyr, a home-brewed effort with so much Beaver State ethos flowing through its grooves that they're tying the release of the album to a batch of beer. Meaning: if you buy a batch of the beer, you get a download code that enables you to snag Into The Eventyr, provided you're not drunk enough to figure out the "Save To File" window that pops up when you visit the website on your laptop.

And this isn't a slight against their marketing campaign either, which I'm sure at least three pints of pale ale would make Into The Eventyr sound about as good as Harvest (as the press release would try to convince you to compare it to), or at least an early My Morning Jacket record (which it actually does compare to).

To be honest, there are plenty of cynical things you could probably utter about Norman, including the ridiculous album title (think "adventure"), but there are very few negative things that you can say about it after giving it a worthy listen. The band easily flows between accessible lite rock and southern rock worship with a great amount of credibility in either direction.

Vocalist Eric Nordby is capable of a wide range, but very little in terms of distinct personality. His role does little to distinguish Norman from beyond the 503, but then again, anyone outside of that area code would be proud to front a band as seemingly good as this band appears to be.

Opener "Hawk" and the kinetic "Ruby Sun" find the band making attempts to break the mold of their surroundings while tracks like "Ventura" and "Golden" find Norman dwelling around their collective comfort zones with such efficiency that you can't hardly blame them for staying put.

Into The Eventyr may end up being nothing more than a solid collection of 11 tracks that get under the skin of the Oregon residents that probably have an opportunity to see them in a dive this weekend. Their future may indeed be overly reliant on those who venture outside of the state, occasionally trickling in other directions thanks to the memories and record collections of transplants forced to leave OR for whatever reason. It also manages to hint that those memories were probably fueled by a very real prowess, a fact that is honestly represented on Norman's third.

In other words, Into The Eventyr is a very distinctive craft brew with elements suitable for a wide array of palates, even though its marketing efforts-like the ones being implemented with Norman's brewery friends-are designed to appeal to the same crowds of the Pacific Northwest faithful.

Hopefully, they can rock some sense into my public radio loving friend's ass, because the only classical music that dude listened to before moving to Oregon was Yngwie Malmsteen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mastodon Now Makes Beer In Addition To Melting Faces

I'm posting this only because I'm hungover and lazy at the moment, a rare night of too much high alcohol stouts and a nightcap of a shot of Crown Royal.

It's cold here in Iowa already. I needed a hearty stout with an bit of an alcohol burn at the end to warm my aging bones in an attempt to keep up with a few younger ones, some of which I'm sure are now two decades younger than me.

Thankfully, my son didn't bust my chops on the fact that we were late to his basketball practice because his Dad needed coffee to become mobile just as my wife didn't bust my chops that the saw job that I did on the cabinets to make our new refrigerator fit in the kitchen was so far from fucking straight that it's embarrassing.

Damn you Founders' Breakfast Stout!

So here's a quick and easy post telling you about Mastodon's new beer, Black Tongue!

I have no idea of their involvement, and the video below doesn't really explain too much, other than the brewers made the drummer from Mastodon sit down and tell them what kind of beer they wanted him to make.

After suggesting to the professionals that they "Bring back the essence of Blatz with the urine soaked finish of a stale can of Hamms" the group decide on a black IPA, which probably means that I won't like it.

But hey, I like beer and I like Mastodon, so I won't bust your chops if you order a few bottles of Black Tongue and crank up Crack The Skye.

Just mind the hangover before you do.

Update: Like Elton John, It's made in England, so with the shipping costs to the U.S., I seriously doubt many North American readers will ever get a chance to sip the band's new brew.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Can't Live Without You: A Farewell To The Scorpions

Would you mind removing your hat, Klaus?
I do a mean Klaus Meine.

It’s true. Ask one of my co-workers (the ones over thirty, that is) and they’ll tell you how they’ve heard me yell—in my best World Wide Live voice—”Do you see the microphones in the air? Do you see them?! We are doing a live recording here toniiiggghhttt!” Because there’s nothing funnier than hearing a thin-haired German dude trying to work up a crowd in broken English.

But as much as I think Klaus Meine sounds funny, as much as some of the band’s lyrics are funny, as offensive as some of their album covers are, and as awful as their 1989 smash “Wind Of Change” truly is, I will stand behind the Scorpions and defend their awesomeness without a hint of irony. And to hear that they will be calling it a day disappoints me.

For me, it began with Animal Magnetism after Jim Turner gave a half-baked assessment of it during basketball practice. A few of us were talking about what records we liked when Jeff, who wasn’t even part of the original conversation, offered “Man, if you all want to hear some good music, it don’t get no better than ‘The Zoo‘ by the Scorpions.”

Jim Turner later went to jail when he and a pair of other classmates did a quick home invasion of an older couple who ran the local Dairy Queen. They broke into their house one night a demanded the funds of the ice cream place’s daily sales, oblivious to the fact that business owners generally put the store’s profits into the night depository box at the bank before heading home.

While Jim wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to felonious crime, he was correct in his recommendation of Animal Magnetism.

When Blackout came out, a friend of mine became so inspired that he wanted to immortalize it on his car, a 1969 Buick. He chose a line from “Dynamite” and carved “Kick Your Ass To Heaven With Rock & Roll Tonight” into the paint of his trunk.

Another friend admitted that he used the cover of Lovedrive as masturbatory material.

Thank God it wasn’t Virgin Killer [NSFW].

But even that album triggers a more recent memory. I was at one of those websites that lists the 10 or 20 most awful album covers of all time and it rightfully includes Virgin Killer on its list. Curiosity got the most of me and I finally decided to brave a potential Dateline: To Catch A Predator investigation and download a copy.

You know what?

It fucking rocks.

And so began my most recent exploration: Scorpions circa 1971-1978. It’s a revelation. Hell, it’s a completely different band. Thanks to the underrated genius of guitarist Uli Jon Roth, ’70s era Scorps are sonically heavier outfit with these weird flourishes of Hendrix-y psychedelic blues. Roth frequently quotes from Hendrix’s notepad, and he later married the same chick that was with Jimi on the night that he died. He is just one of three—count ‘em—three of hard rock’s all-time greatest guitarists that have played in the Scorpions.

When the band was just starting out, guitarist Michael Schenker was so good on the Flying V that UFO, a more popular band from England snagged him.

Kick your ass to Heaven, with rock and roll tonight!
After Roth and Schenker departed, Matthias Jabs—a possible contender for best name of a lead guitarist—managed to somehow continue the emotive soloing of his predecessors and combine it with the rapid-fire finger tapping approach of ’80s metal.

It was during this time when the band reached their heights with the commercial zenith of Love At First Sting, a record which prompted even my father to comment that “Rock You Like A Hurricane” was a “pretty good song.” Is it any surprise that my father’s approval proved to be the kiss of death that began the band’s dissent into worn out clichés (“Tease Me, Please Me“) and political ambassadors (“Winds Of Change”). Sure, the latter secured a place in the hearts of thousands freed from communist oppression, but for the rest of us, we felt the band had gone soft.

There were moments during the ’90s when I’d contemplate a new Scorpions album, but I never had the balls to actually buy one. It was too risky. “Wind Of Change” had done such irreversible damage that even the band’s notoriety as good-natured party boys seemed somewhat irresponsible. I can’t believe I’m suggesting this but, the Scorpions should have just stayed stupid.

There was a time when they served as an important reminder of the spirit of rock and roll: How does a rock and roll band build their chops? Gigs! What is the main reason why a fellow should start a rock band? Chicks! What should a band do during the hours off stage? Party!

They were the Beatles’ younger brother generation; a collective of teenage boys who saw The Beatles as a formula for a way out, and if it landed some tail during the process then all the better. One of the most important tools that they gleaned from the Fab Four was an almost Hamburg-like work ethic where the band got very good at their arrangements, to the point where even the most clumsy of English wordplay was overlooked.

While the Scorpions progressed exponentially on their craft, their lyrics remained a pubic hair above the seventh grade. They often seemed to rhyme things phonetically with a complete disregard for logic. And like a monkey writing Shakespeare, the band would occasionally mine gold, lending you to second guess that their apparent lack of smarts was part of the plan.

Plus, is there any way that a band with a track record that spans forty years could have pulled it off without a little bit of common sense?

No way.

So even though I haven’t heard much from the band in over half of that four decade career, I’m still compelled to visit them when they make their inevitable retirement tour that also happens to be supporting their final studio album. Up until now, there’s always been “the next tour,” with a sneaking suspicion that there’d be a cheaper county fair opportunity.

With their retirement announcements, it appears that the band will get to go out with an arena tour and with a certain amount of dignity.

What was that about playing dumb?

Thanks for the memories, Scorpions.

There really is no one like you.

This article originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Scorpions Live In The Quad Cities


Live at the I-Wireless Center

Moline, IL August 20, 2010

You would surmise from my farewell to the Scorpions as they embarked on their Get Your Sting and Blackout tour, I’d be chomping at the bit to catch the band on one final ride.

Like everyone reading this, I too am constrained by outside influences when it comes to seeing a concert: wife, kids, budget, work schedule, etc. The child daycare secured through the wife who had no interest in seeing Germany’s greatest rock export (Her: “Are they going to play ‘Wind of Change’?” Me: “God I hope not!” Her: “I’ll stay home with the kids, then.”) and with the show scheduled for a Friday night, there was no conflict with work. The only real obstacle was self-imposed; having shot a major financial wad on Iron Maiden, did I really want to make another investment on Scorpions…particularly if the openers were Dokken?

I checked the tour schedule months ago and noticed that younger brother Michael Schenker was opening on one of the Scorpions’ dates in Chicago. That got me excited as the Quad Cities date was the day before. But Michael was only appearing at the Chicago show, and I was bummed about that, because Michael Schenker rhymes with “rockin’” ten times more than Dokken does. I put the Quad Cities date into a questionable status.

Occasionally, I kept tabs on the show leading up to the date and in the process began to notice how dismal the ticket sales were. I also began to figure out how ticket sales work. When the date was first announced, only tickets in the venue’s lower level balcony were available. By a week before, the seats had suddenly improved to ground level center seats. On the day before the show, that had improved to the 13th row center.

Still, I procrastinated.

Work trudged along until Friday came, a day that I thought I would be able to check out early since I had thrown down a bit of OT for the rest of the workweek. By Thursday afternoon, I learned that my presence was required for the rest of the day on Friday, and since I’m takin’ what they’re givin’ cuz I’m workin’ for a livin’, I spent Friday afternoon stuck at work instead of prepping for a Scorpions concert.

While at work, I tuned out the reality by listening to Animal Magnetism and some selections from Blackout. I should note that a few days before this I got the latest Scorpions album Sting In The Tail as well, to review and to get familiar with what appears to be the band’s final studio album. By the time I got home from work on Friday, my shitty week fueled an unstoppable desire to have a good time, in whatever manner that was available. And with the knowledge that there would be bad boys running wild about an hour-and-a-half away, I made the decision to go see the Scorpions.

A quick check of Ticketmaster proved to be fruitless, but since I knew the show wasn’t anywhere near a sell-out, I figured that I could still pick up a spare ticket at the box office window or from a needy scalper.

For reasons only explained by the items obtained in preparation for the show, I became convinced that the I-Wireless Center was located in Rock Island, Illinois. Rock Island is indeed one of the Quad Cities, but the I-Wireless Center is located in one of the other three communities in that region.

It took walking around idiotically for a half-hour in the Rock Island District during a light rain shower before I figured out the venue that the Scorpions were playing at was not there. My quiet stroll also put me even closer to the band’s starting time, and the fact that the Quad Cities seem to not be large enough to necessitate the need for high-speed mobile connections made the Google Maps search on my Blackberry a frustrating ordeal of “requesting information” bars and “timed out” errors.

I’d been at the I-Wireless Center before under different names and for different shows and I remembered even in my condition that it was next to the Mississippi River. With absolutely no technology helping, I used my manly powers of magnetic field direction and followed the river upstream until I was in the second of the Quad Cities: Moline, Illinois.

Thankfully, there were road markers indicating that I had navigated correctly. I quickly found a place a few blocks away from the venue (note to self: Pabst Blue Ribbon sign) and walked towards the show, confident that I had not only completely missed Dokken, but that my endless delays and bad luck had most assuredly made me miss the first two songs of the Scorpions’ set.

As long as I didn’t miss “The Zoo,” I would continue onward.

A middle-aged man stood across the street, yelling “Tickets!” in humid sprinkle of the Friday evening. “What have you got?” I asked.

“Row 12. Center section. Down in front.”

“How much?” I asked, knowing that at this late stage, he did not have much bargaining power.

“At this point, you’re my last option, I’ll let them go for face value.” I probably could get them for less if I bartered some more, but I knew from looking at the ticket and seeing the section and rows on it that the seat was indeed a good one.

What I didn’t know was how good. The stars aligned in such a way that after I paid the man for my ticket, I walked into the I-Wireless Center and was greeted by the sound of an intermission crowd buying beer, Scorpions t-shirts, and slowly making progress in the lines for the restroom.

I made it before show time.

An usher pointed me to my seat, and I did a double take to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. Row 12, section B placed me right in front of the stage catwalk, which meant that everything timed out perfectly to where I had gotten front-row seats to the Scorpions show.

I’m not sure how other stops on the tour are doing, but for this Quad City stop the venue was maybe half-full. They had even partitioned off the top level of the arena since no seats were sold for it and no band that’s touring for their 40th year of existence wants to visually see how strained their appeal has become.

There were very few in attendance under the age of 30 and I noticed that one parent had brought his 9-year-old girl to sing along with “Tease Me, Please Me.” There were also a lot of decent looking, middle-aged ladies who did their best at dolling up to make a good visual impression with their husbands, boyfriends, or to the members of the Scorpions’ video crew.

My neighbor was a forty-year old, well-dressed Mexican man who was sweating away the beers he consumed during Dokken and was manageably inebriated in preparation for the Scorpions set. “I was drunk and a little high last night and on the computer,” he offered, “and I just went to the website and bought a ticket. I had no idea that I got seats this close!”

I didn’t spoil his story by letting he know that I had literally just walked up to the arena and gotten my ticket for the same spot, but I shared with him that our seats were indeed “Awesome!” and that our seats would automatically make the show “Awesome!”

And with perfect timing, the lights darkened and the Scorpions took the stage with the title track of their latest album. Their set was fantastically appointed with two giant video screens that would often match the pixelated light sequence of an illuminated grid that covered the band’s gear. The drums were hoisted on a platform that immediately began to rise, causing my new friend to exclaim “Holy shit! That’s awesome!”

It was awesome, but not as great as when guitarist Rudolph Schenker came out on the catwalk, opened his mouth wide and began playing his custom-made flying V that had a Mercedes Benz logo on the headstock. There was another Mercedes logo on one of the “V’s” that went through the entire body of the guitar.

Throughout the night, he would offer up other Flying Vs: a Ferrari edition with the appropriate color schemes and a hollow cutaway for that brand’s logo, an infamous half black/half white model that’s been a mainstay of his collection, and a vintage blond model that’s seen plenty of action. I was so close that I could hear the sound of him strumming the strings before I heard the amplified results coming from the P.A.

Matthias Jabs also found his home on the catwalk. Jabs was wide-eyed and smiling with his mouth open during the entire set. He’d occasionally blow a kiss to a foxy MILF or scrunch up his face (still grinning) whenever he’d offer a bit of tasty fretwork. He played a variety of guitars too, but I was a bit shocked when he used a couple of Cort models, a low-priced Korean guitar maker who is more famously known for the atrocious working conditions of its guitar factory than with their guitar quality.

Drummer James Kottak fancies himself as a good enough musician to warrant a ten minute drum solo, which featured a video collage of him acting in short vignettes that identified some of the band’s most notable albums while managing to steer clear of their ’70s output, with the exception of their breakthrough U.S. album, Lovedrive. Most of the albums they featured would have included drummer Herman ‘Ze German’ Rarebell on them, but Kottak does a good job of acting the Wildman part.

At the end of his solo—drum riser about twenty feet in the air-he jumped on top of his kit, turned his back to the crowd to reveal his t-shirt to read “Rock & Roll Forever” on the back. He then took off his shirt to reveal that he had the exact same lettering tattooed across his back permanently.

“That guy’s fucking crazy, man!” declared my neighbor.

It turns out that the guy even has his own t-shirts for sale with “Kottak Attack” on the front and—you guessed it—”Rock & Roll Forever” on the back. A quick glance at the man’s website shows that, prior to his stint with the Scorpions for the past fifteen years, he was one of the members of Kingdom Come. And since Kingdom Come was pretty great in a Led Zeppelin clone kind of way, I have no issue with James Kottak franchising himself.

The only disadvantage to being that close to the stage is that you have a chance to see just how much your old school metal acts have aged. Matthias Jabs looks no worse for the wear, opting for a hat during the entire proceedings, presumably to hide his diminishing follicles.

At 61 years of age, Rudolph Schenker looks fabulously toned and carefully shone in his close-cropped platinum blond spike top. He is a master rhythm guitar player, cutting through the staccato introductions of “Blackout,” “The Zoo” (Neighbor: “Oh my God! I can’t believe they’re playing this!”), and “Big City Nights.” At the end of most songs, he’d strike an iconic hard rock pose, usually with pointing his Flying V up in the air, out towards the crowd, or out to the outstretched arms in phallic symbolism. There were moments where I felt giddy inside thinking, “Rudy Schenker is an arms-length away from me!”

But there was nothing compared to the moment when the lead singer of the Scorpions walked down the catwalk to similar proximity, prompting me to think, “Klaus Meine is an arms-length away from me…and he’s really old.” At sixty two years of age, Meine looks his age up close and that fully explains why the video screen projection of the based was either colorfully pixelated or with footage from the archives.

His voice has tapered somewhat and he was visibly winded by the last third of the set, but Klaus gets a pass because he continually worked the crowd treating the newer material with a bit more attention than was needed. After the power ballad “The Best Is Yet To Come” from the recent Sting In The Tail, Meine cajoled the crowd for over five minutes until they sung the refrain to his satisfaction.

Then he made us do it again.

He also took part in a bit of each song’s closing poses, which were accented with endless measures of last guitar notes and cymbal crashes. During one pose, he put one foot on Jabs’ thigh and the other on Schenker’s and then balanced himself up into some high-school cheerleader pose. The entire band made it to the end for a pair of acoustic songs, the power ballad “Send Me An Angel,” complete with an increasingly clichéd Dio tribute and Lovedrive‘s “Holiday.”

With every rehearsed pose, each prolonged final chord and every silly bit of stage banter (Klaus’ best bit: “Hello Quad City Moline United States! Are you ready to rock and roll toniiiigggghhhht?!”) there was something strangely enduring about their performance.

I hope shows like these aren’t a dying breed; they provide a necessary bit of tension release. One of the Scorpions’ most notable talents is their ability to shuck off every bit your dismal life with a message of “Our interpretation of the English language is questionable, but we play really good, enjoy having a good time and would like for you to loosen up for a couple of hours!” And after forty years of existence, they still possess that ability.

According to my neighbor, he had recently seen Aerosmith and reported that “the Scorpions are working the crowd up a lot more than those guys!” He also kept telling me how much he hoped they played “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” Having glanced at the setlist of this tour beforehand, I knew that they were saving this song for last, during the two-song encore.

After they came back out with “There’s No One Like You” (which prompted immediate vocalization from every woman in attendance), the band set out with the song that rocks so much that it creates nautical gale force winds. Right before they began playing it, I pulled my neighbor closer and told him, “They’re going to play your song now.”

On cue, the band started playing. The man returned with a legitimate surprise of “How did you know, man! This is awesome!” and became so worked up that he began pushing himself up the barrier to hoist himself to get Rudolph Schenker’s attention directly in front of him. Rudy opened his mouth in another one of his silent scream faces and security personnel came over to us to advise my neighbor to stand down.

Was the enjoyment gained from the Scorpions’ performance on Friday night due to the chemically altered waves of nostalgia and the fortunate acquisition of choice seats?


But I’d like to also believe that the Scorpions’ history of endless tours and countless sets would make even the most cynical of music fan smile with some level of appreciation. Their adhesion to the familiar arena code now seems positively fresh in a world of autotune, lip-syncing, and indifference.

There’s a place for bands like Scorpions, a goal for other like-minded acts to attain and a model for anti-arena bands to avoid. In either case, those bands will have to put in some long hours to match the band’s work ethic and sheer ability.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scorpions Announce Unplugged Album

The Scorpions "Farewell" Tour is similar to the Kiss "Farewell" Tour in the sense that it never fucking ends.

Don't get me wrong, I caught the band during their first go round of the states on this tour, and I had a blast.
The thing about it is, there were plenty of good seats left, and in fact, they curtained off the entire second floor of the Iowa Wireless Center because of poor ticket sales.

Point is: anyone who really wanted to check out the Scorpions had ample opportunity to do so.

Which is why I'd like to know who these people are that keep begging the band for additional material, most of which is just repackaged offering of songs done previously...and much their original incarnations.
Photo credit: Torsten Hilse

Nonetheless, this factual press release sites the fact that everyone is delighted that the Scorpions continue to milk this son-of-a-bitch for all it's worth.

The band is now announcing that they'll release a new album MTV Unplugged, which is hilarious since the show isn't even a part of MTV's North American schedule anymore.

Evidently, MTV in Europe doesn't have shows like Catfish or that one with the drunk kids from West Virginia. So for all you complaining how MTV doesn't show music anymore: move to fucking Greece where the Nazi party is alive and well and the Scorpions still rule.

Wait, what?

Here's the press:

(New York, NY) - Sony International is proud to announce the release of legendary international hard rockers the Scorpions' new offering MTV Unplugged. Due out in North America on January 21st, 2014, material from MTV Unplugged is taken from the Scorpions' first-ever "MTV Unplugged" show and features new acoustic versions of best-loved classic hits, as well as five brand new songs. MTV Unplugged will be available in two formats - a standard CD and a deluxe version featuring CD + DVD. MTV UNPLUGGED will be released in 50 countries, a testament to the German band's iconic status worldwide.

The exact track listing will be announced at a later date. Recorded and filmed just a few months ago on September 11th and September 12th of this year, the Scorpions' MTV Unplugged was culled from two dynamic acoustic sets at the Lycabettus Theatre in Athens, Greece. The spectacular open-air theatre, situated 300 meters above the city, was an impressive backdrop for the first-ever open-air show in the history of "MTV Unplugged" (the theatre also shares a birth year with the Scorpions themselves, having been built in 1965, the same year the Scorpions formed).

Of the choice to film/record MTV Unplugged at the Lycabettus Theatre, Scorpions' singer/guitarist Klaus Meine commented, "We have fabulous fans all over the world, but the Greeks are absolute die-hards fans." The Scorpions is Klaus Meine (vocals/guitar), Rudolf Schenker (guitars/vocals), Matthias Jabs (guitars), Pawel Maciwoda (bass) and James Kottak (drums); additional musical support on MTV Unplugged includes contributions from Swedish musicians and producers Mikael Nord Andersson (guitars, mandolin, lap steel, vocals) and Martin Hansen (guitars, harmonica, vocals). The duo is also responsible for the arrangements on MTV Unplugged.  

In other news, the Scorpions are still in the midst of their epic Farewell World Tour; the tour has been going on for more than three years now. To the delight of their fans there is no end in sight, as to date the band has only played 23 out of the 38 countries planned on the itinerary.

The Scorpions is one of the most successful international hard rock bands of all time, selling upwards of 75 million records worldwide and playing more than 5,000 concerts in 80+ countries globally. Formed in Germany in 1965, the band has come to be known for their colossal radio and MTV hits "Rock You Like A Hurricane," "No One Like You" and "Wind Of Change," as well as their status as international rock ambassadors. VH1 ranked the Scorpions as the #46 Artist on the "Greatest Artists Of Hard Rock" special, while "Rock You Like A Hurricane" came in at #18 on VH1's "Greatest Hard Rock Songs". The band recently received a star on the Hollywood Rock Walk in Los Angeles. To date, the Scorpions have released 18 studio albums and 5 live records.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Japanese Vampire Movie Sanguivorous Slated For Stateside Release

Look, I make no claim to know if this thing is worth a damn. In fact, I could only get about two minutes into the trailer before I was bored stiff and turned it off. Some may find this terrific, some will find it tedious, but here you go, if you're into some artsy fartsy Japanese silent vampire movie, then you're in luck:

Tidepoint Pictures will release Sanguivorous ("Kyuketsu") on November 19th. It is the first Japanese avant-garde, silent vampire movie ever made. The film focuses on a young woman suffering from mysterious physical ailments who's horrified to discover that she's descended from generations of vampires. When with her boyfriend, she struggles to control her peculiar appetite. But it's in her blood...

Sanguivorous is written and directed by Japanese filmmaker Naoki Yoshimoto and features the renowned avant-garde butoh dancer Ko Murobushi. Earllier this year the film impressed audiences in New York, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and DC with screenings in conjunction with live musical accompaniment by Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani and saxophonist Edward Wilkerson, Jr. This unprecedented event combined experimental filmmaking, cutting-edge contemporary music, dance theatre... and fangs.

Sanguivorous also stars Ayumi Kakizawa, Masaya Adachi, and Mutsuko Yoshinaga. Cinematography is by Katsuya Shinzato and Noaki Yoshimoto, lighting by Mitsuyo Watanabe and Katsuya Shinzato, production design by Takashi Yagi, and music by director Naoki Yoshimoto. The film is produced by Sachi Nagamatsu.

Friday, November 15, 2013

OCD Chronicles: Julian Cope - "Fear Loves This Place"

So, several years ago-we’re talking a time when I was married to another and living in a community that was several hours away-I was in Iowa City for whatever reason and noticed a piece on the local news about a record store that had fallen on hard times and was preparing to close. I believe the store was called Rock n Bach, or something to that effect, and I made the decision to make a slight detour to the north and hit Cedar Rapids where the store was located.

It was easy enough to find, but reeked of slow death the moment that we entered into the store. It was like a funeral wake inside, no music playing, the windows covered with the obligatory “going out of business” signs and the faded posters of new releases from years ago. “Everything must go” the signs declared, but we had entered during a time when it probably should have been updated to “No really, everything must go! Take this shit too!” since the bins were picked clean of the good scores.

As a dutiful record shopper, I needed to make the trip worthwhile-so I proceeded to dig in, looking for anything worth buying.

Throughout the search, I could overhear a number of people going up to the owner, who made no real attempt to leave his chair behind the counter, unless it was to run the cash register-asking him what his plans were, how sorry they were the store was closing, and speaking of the general realities that record stores were having a tough time adjusting to the approaching millennium. In other words, this would have been around the time when the Internet was starting to take off, making such passive record stores like Rock ‘n Bach struggle with the notion that they actually needed to work for their supper.

Each customer would share a story about how much record stores mean to this, while placing their purchases on the counter, almost appearing embarrassed by the fact that they were too cheap that they didn't come in sooner when their shit was full priced.

Who knows. Maybe it was the owner's fault that he couldn't make it work, or maybe he just didn't feel like trying anymore.

I’m not suggesting that the dude would have even survived in a horrifically competitive environment, particularly since up the road there was a Best Buy that probably undercut his stock by two or three bucks a pop. I’m just saying that I wasn’t surprised that the place was closing its doors, based on my experience and bearing witness to the general malaise of the owner during its final days of operation.

It looked to me like he was ready to move on.

I did find an e.p. from The Fall on the cheap and a bootleg cassette of some Phish show that I had attended years before, but the real find came with a Julian Cope picture disc from the Jehovahkill record, marked down to better than a steal.

For years, I treated the limited edition disc with kid gloves, barely playing it, attentive to the reality that the jacket was also becoming a little loosey-goosey. But fairly recently, I began listening to the 45 rpm 12” for reasons that can only be described as “It’s been a while since I listened to some Julian Cope.”

To hear Cope nowadays is nothing short of a chore; his catalog is littered with pretentious meanderings that try to channel a certain amount of revolutionary jive while sounding more like a fried (ha!) geezer with a home studio and a bone to pick with institutions that have long-since become irrelevant.

While we do indeed need people like Cope on our planet, we don’t need them to release records every fucking year, especially considering how most of these releases could have been created by practically anyone with a modicum of talent and a personal vendetta.

There was a period-maybe two-in which Cope was faced with the enviable role of having a fairly large amount of notoriety and a head full of ideas, and the results were delightful. For all of its mass (it’s a double, which in the cd era borders on tedium) Cope’s 1992 release Jehovahkill is perhaps Saint Julian’s last bit of required listening. Once the record’s polarizing take on religion was released, his label suddenly determined that their artist would not “play by the rules” and promptly dropped him.

From there, Cope’s decent into indulgence was the only constant of his catalog. His literary works did a great job of highlighting the man’s other talents (he is an incredible wordsmith) and preoccupations, but gone were the days of the man toying with the pop model with just a hint of acid casualty underneath the commercial sheen. I mean, say what you will about the man’s mental state, but Fried at its core is chocked full of pop sensibility; “Bill Drummond Said” may be the world’s most perfect pop song about a pathetic music-biz type since the Stones’ “The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” and that shit was delegated to the b-side.

By ’92, Cope was still on the radar enough that his label offered him a certain amount of autonomy, and he repaid them with a two-fer study on the perils of religion. The record misses the full-band treatment of his earlier catalog, and it’s noticeable. Particularly with “Fear Loves This Place,” the only single from Jehovakill. It’s sparse and filled with very minimalist arrangements. Cope belittles Guns ‘n Roses on the back cover in a well-written if not poorly channeled attack on the Guns’ bad-boy image, but the reality is that “Fear Loves This Place” could have had some massive potential had he brought just a third of Slash’s tone to the proceedings, propelling the track into the stratosphere where it’s impact would have been greater.

Instead, the song relies on Cope’s own vocal mojo to bring it almost to fruition. “We’re living one hell of a heaven” he sarcastically bellows, before belting out the next line “Deliver one world at one take” with even more moxie. He harmonizes with himself before giving the money shot of his song title. Cope lowers his voice during some moments, barely a whisper on some lines, complete with the sound of him breathing in to dramatic effect.

There is one line in the song-right before the final chorus-that gets me every fucking time: “O Lord, it’s coming to….me tonight/Peaceful the knives….inside me STTIIIILLLLL!!” The swell of his delivery is transcendent, and I’m seriously getting goosebumps just talking about it.

Julian now performs the song, as he does with most of his material, solo. As in, he gets on stage with a guitar, tells a few long-winded stories, and obediently fleshes out a set list with fan favorites and whatever kick he’s feeling. He doesn’t take kindly to talkers, drunks and hecklers-not that he should, by any means, but the shows seem to have become more of a lecture than a rock and roll show, and that’s kind of a shame considering how dangerous this man could be in front of an audience.

I’m not asking that he cut himself open like he was notorious for, but it would be nice to have Cope recognize the power of his material and to suppress his ego the extent where he forces himself to interact with other musicians to fully unleash the strength of what are some truly remarkable songs.

With that being said, I’m so grateful that he hasn’t turned into the shell (ha!-see previous one for the Easter Egg gift) of a figure that one of his biggest rivals-Ian McCulloch-has become.

Anyways, the tune in question is below, and it has completely overtaken me this week as I had to go to my Hematologist to see if I had cancer. So yeah, fear knows this place.

That's why they made a "Reflection Room" in the medical pavilion.

Here's a shot:

That's a waterfall back there. The kind TLC told you not to chase.

And no, I don't have cancer.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rogue Wave - Nightingale Floors

“The gravity of career ambition/Never meant that much to me” sings Zach Rogue on “Figured It Out,” the third song in on their fifth release, Nightingale Floors. The statement is both expected and somewhat of a surprise, given how his band continually received nods (and checks) from television producers for their songs.

The band became ubiquitous with the soundtrack to any emotional moment of whatever young adult show was on at the time, and because of this it was unclear who or why the band was actually creating for. The surprise comes with the reality that, despite the band’s ability to market their songs, Rogue Wave has had some really bad luck personally.

For every successful song placement, there were other, much heavier things weighing on the band’s mind: from one band member dying in a fire, to another’s kidney transplant, to Zach Rogue’s own neck injury. If all of this wasn’t enough, Zach’s father passed away during Nightingale Floor’s creative process, making the band the epitome of the “if it wasn’t for bad luck” line, as bad luck seems to have been with them at every turn.

Which makes Nightingale Floors such a welcomed return, as it manages to regain some of their previous glories while incorporating some of those aforementioned setbacks into their creative muse. As awful as this may sound, those setbacks have made for an intensely personal album with a lot of introspective beauty, one that ranks as perhaps the band’s finest moment.

Some of the credit goes to producer John Congleton, who puts the band back into its mid-tempo groove and removes any of the dreaded electronic nonsense that deterred most fans from their last effort, Permalight. Congleton puts the band in a variety of atmospheric environments without seeming too claustrophobic. Instruments are pronounced and the studio trickery is evenly paced, contributing to a sound that is equal parts a fingerprint for this record and a lineage to the band’s previous highpoints.

Nightingale Floors breathes like it’s full of personal antidotes and feelings, but it’s the band’s musical arrangement that give the record a new lease on life for a variety of listeners. Whatever the intent, and from wherever the songs originated from, Rogue Wave have delivered a record that is free to mean something different for each unique listener. Prior experience has shown that this ability to provide a fluid response is often the sign of a great record.

With that in mind, even if Nightingale Floors is perhaps a decade too late in the public consciousness, Rogue Wave has indeed delivered a great record in the midst of their own private setbacks and very public missteps.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lee Ranaldo and the Dust - Last Night On Earth

As heartbreaking as Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s divorce was/is, the real shame is with the uncertainty of where all of the domestic drama leaves Sonic Youth. You can only assume that the band’s infinite hiatus is permanent, save for the occasional reunion offer-which has got to be harder than just a couple of dudes quibbling over royalties or how drunk C.C. was during an awards show performance.

Not only that, but two of Sonic Youth’s members are far too good to simply let their talents squander because Thurston can’t keep his cock in his pants. So while the rest of the world were morning the dissolution of indie rock’s king and queen, I was more upset at the notion that S.Y.’s guitarist Lee Ranaldo and the band’s criminally overlooked drummer Steve Shelley were without work for the first time in decades.

Thankfully, Ranaldo had already proven his role as a fully capable singer and songwriter for the band, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to patiently wait for his next move. The better news is that his new career as a solo artist also incorporates Shelly on drums, making the grand opening moniker of “Lee Ranaldo and the Dust” essentially one-half of the band that is now part of the divorce decree of Kim and Thurston.

The easy verdict is how the debut Last Night On Earth will appeal to nearly everyone who appreciated Lee’s songs on Sonic Youth records, with the possible exception being those who won’t be receptive to Ranaldo’s more mainstream tendencies and penchant for noodling.

Because Last Night On Earth is an effort with a clear attempt at being less an art rock record than one designed to simply rock, with a natural focus on Lee’s guitar work. There are just as many acoustic flourishes as there are feedback squalls. There are straight-forward verse-chorus-verse structures throughout out and plenty of intriguing solos who want to examine his guitar prowess and studies of tone.

There are moments where you’d swear Ranaldo was a member of Built To Spill rather than the dissonant explorations of Sonic Youth, but as a fan of each, I can find very little to fault in that assessment. Each listen of Last Night On Earth is as rewarding as the last one, which makes Ranaldo’s first effort out of the gate-thirty years after the fact, no less-a positive development in an otherwise dismal dissolution.

“Everyone falls apart in the end” he sings on “Ambulancer,” but Last Night On Earth shows how Ranaldo has picked up and moved on to better days.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Shearwater Shares Track From New Album 'Fellow Travelers'

Shearwater is getting ready to release an interesting concept album, details in the press release below.

And here's a sample of the goods:

You can now download “Fucked Up Life,” the second single from Shearwater’s Fellow Travelers, a new collection of reinventions and collaborations with artists they’ve toured with over the years, out November 25th in North America and Europe on Sub Pop. “Fucked Up Life” is Shearwater’s rendering of the song written by beloved Denton, TX band (and labelmates) The Baptist Generals, and features additional instrumentation from UK band Clinic.

Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg says of “Fucked Up Life”: “I used to watch the Baptist Generals play this song in Austin back in the early 2000s, and it brought me almost to tears every time – the tenderness and fondness of it, the feeling of watching a friend or lover enter a bad place you’ve already been, and knowing there’s no way out but for them to go all the way through. And the helplessness of knowing that your love for someone else isn’t always enough, laced with the hope that they’ll learn to muddle through on their own. It seemed like the perfect way to end the record—with a parting of ways, a journey’s end.

Clinic’s contribution to this song was the biggest surprise of the album, to me. I sent the acoustic guitar track, a scratch vocal, and basic drums over to them via email, and they returned the song festooned with all the trademark Clinic sounds; the bouncy bass and drum machine, the radio-wave synth effects, the overdriven combo organ.”

Shearwater’s Fellow Travelers is now available for preorder via Sub and iTunes.

About Shearwater’s Fellow Travelers:
JM: Fellow Travelers wasn’t supposed to be a full-length record, so I’m a little surprised to admit that it’s my favorite Shearwater album so far. Somehow it slipped under the door. It was meant to be a small thing, maybe a home-recorded EP, to release between Animal Joy and the next full-length (for which we’re in the studio right now). But it took on a life of its own. Re-imagining and renovating songs by the bands we’ve traveled with—with assistance from the bands themselves—was like leafing through a scrapbook, and brought back the highs and lows of a decade of touring, from dives in Oklahoma and squats in Slovenia to the Fillmore West, the Bataclán, and the MGM Grand.

 Fellow Travelers Track Listing:
1) “Our Only Sun” – a fragment of the song “Deeper Devastation,” by Jesca Hoop
2) “I Luv the Valley OH!!” – Xiu Xiu
3) “Hurts Like Heaven” – Coldplay
4) “Natural One” – Folk Implosion
5) “Ambiguity” – David Thomas Broughton
6) “Cheerleader” – St. Vincent
7) “Tomorrow” – Clinic
8) “A Wake for the Minotaur” – Shearwater & Sharon Van Etten
9) “Mary is Mary” – Wye Oak
10) “Fucked Up Life” - The Baptist Generals

Friday, November 1, 2013

KISS - Animalize

We were nearing the end of the 1984/85 school year, and the student council met a final time to schedule our annual end-of-year assembly, the one where the leaders in the council get up, hand out awards, say the class’ final goodbyes and share a few memories. We also surveyed the class to identify their favorite things, like TV shows (The Cosby Show), movie (Purple Rain) and favorite song.

As the Senior Class President and general man about musical taste, I remember thinking that there would be no way a song I thought was “Cool” would make it to the top of the survey, thereby making our class appear a tad bit more “cool” in the process. I may have had a bit of pull in my lobbying abilities, but I understood the reality of trying to get a large percentage of our 150 student class size to agree on one song to be next to impossible.

A friend of mine with equally decent taste in music presented a great idea. He figured that we lobby for a song so ridiculous that we’d get a large percentage of people willing to take part in the joke, thereby making our choice victorious. With so many excellent choices in bad music circa ‘84/’85, you would think that narrowing down a selection would be difficult.

You would be wrong.

My issues with Kiss are nothing new; they have been festering ever since I heard their music when it first arrived in the ‘70’s. My opinion was barely considered, as most of my friends loved Kiss, and I was forced to endure their bad music for many years.

By the 80’s, the band was on the decline-making my ridicule of them an exercise in comedic timing. Even the popularity rebound of the unmasking for Lick It Up was only a validation for the true believers. Nobody else in their right mind would even casually listen to that shit, and all of this made my salutations of “Kiss!” and other band references like spitting out water like Gene does with fake blood, made for comedy gold.

The friend I mentioned before was also a Kiss fan. He would endure endless ribbing from me for still hanging on, obediently purchasing Creatures Of The Night and Lick It Up. I got a little pissed at him when he bought their latest record, Animalize, without a second thought. It was as if he wasn't listening to me! Why was he continuing to buy these Kiss albums?

I’d visit his house and hang out in his bedroom, reading the liner notes of his latest Kiss purchases and make fun of every lyric, line by line. The lead-off single for Animalize was “Heaven’s On Fire.” We were subjected to it on MTV, announced every three hours and fifty minutes with Paul Stanley’s shrieking introduction while his hands emitted flames for the camera.

My friend suggested that we nominate “Heaven’s On Fire” as the favorite song of the Class of 1985.

We took the idea around to the different cliques and sold the idea of choosing “Heaven’s On Fire.” Admittedly, it was kind of fun at first, explaining that Kiss sucked and the song sucked and wouldn’t that be funny.

Sure enough, it won.

 We got up in front of the entire school, talked about how awesome we were and then read through the list of winners from our informal vote. There was a large yell when we named “Heaven’s On Fire” as our favorite song, but not everyone in our class got the joke. When the assembly ended, I overheard four dudes talking in the hall about the song choice, oblivious of the joke, but very much on the same page.

“What was the deal with Kiss?” one kid asked.

“Who even likes them anymore?” Another friend agreed, adding “’Heaven’s On Fire’ isn’t even one of their good songs!”

Apart from this review, the last time I listened to Animalize was in my friend’s bedroom, probably on some dreary fall day just like it is now. The only thing I remembered from that original encounter was how stupid the cover looked and how stupid the songs were.

Still feel the same way today.

One of the first things I notice with a fresh spin is how Gene’s bass is way up in the mix. And then I discover that Gene barely even plays on Animalize. Here is a prime example of how, at the core of this band’s existence, lies a cold and calculating dark heart. It isn’t until you get to the fine print of the liner notes, and in the folklore of Kisstory, in which you notice how the concept of “the band” is a completely fluid and irrelevant notion.

Players are nothing more than tools of the trade. As long as there is a visual product and a person (read: Gene or Paul) selling the product, then you have a band. Any notion of camaraderie or considering the band as a “gang” motif is immediately eliminated which in turns, practically stifles any level of emotional contact.

The limitations of Simmons’ playing are already well documented, but his nearly complete absence on Animalize is telling. Not only does he barely play a note, but his vocal and creative contributions are half-assed, even by Gene standards.

He takes sole songwriting credit for “Burn Bitch Burn.” Impossibly qualifying as one of the worst Kiss songs ever recorded. The song shows Simmons just throwing words together, patching lines together in no relation to each other, everything carried by an arrangement that has no sense of melody or cadence.

“Lonely Is The Hunter” is another blast of lyrical nonsense, strongly suggesting that Simmons was only minimally composing for Animalize, while focusing most of his attention on a (then) growing film career.

That leaves Paul Stanley with the sole responsibility of piecing together the rest of Animalize with a cast of friends like Desmond Child and Jean Beauvoir to help him out. And as you could probably guess, the results are a very convoluted mess of disjointed ideas. Stanley seems to have one tone throughout the entire record, loud enough to be annoying while showing very little range and, once again, proving how hard it is to get emotive over words you just shat out because you needed nine songs to make a record.

Eric Carr’s drumming shows little versatility beyond his ability to hit both sticks down at the same time and new guitarist Mark St. John demonstrates how the easiest was to get kicked off the Kiss payroll is to take too many sick days and assume that you’re going to step in the same role as Ace Frehley by playing everything through a fucking Rockman.

St. John’s most notorious moment didn’t come from his flatline soloing or (eventual) short tenure with the band, but with getting the piss knocked out of him while doing time for drug possession. It seemed that his performance on Animalize could not trump the fact that he was a snitch on the streets.

 But the real criminal activity is the fact that Animalize managed to become the band’s biggest selling album since Dynasty and that “Heaven’s On Fire” became the favorite song of my Senior class. It is deserving of nothing and should be used as another mark of the contempt that Kiss not only has towards its fans, but on the genre in which they navigate from.

On its own, Animalize is a barely audible blip on the hair-metal radar from a decade that is littered with bands that spent their whole lives working to get the one album or one song that Kiss manages to draw up in their sleep.

It’s hard to believe that a record like this would ultimately become as successful as it did, and it’s even more amazing that a band like Kiss could draw something up like this, straight from committee instead of honest collaboration and rehearsing. It’s almost like they viewed the material of Animalize as nothing more than a joke.

Which is ironic, because that was one of the first things a lot of us heard right from day one.